Book Review: A Cross-Shattered Church by Stanley Hauerwas
Stanley Hauerwas is noted theologian and professor at Duke Divinity School. He is typically known for his work in Ethics, additionally he has the distinction of being a man who is committed to the local church as well as the academy. As a teacher of practical theology, he takes very seriously the call to be both professor and practitioner. He serves at the Church of the Holy Family in addition to his post at Duke.
A Cross-Shattered Church (ACSC) is a collection of sermons from the Church of the Holy Family, the Chapel at Duke Seminary, and some other places/events. In all 17 sermons range from the dedication of the new processional cross at the school to the homily at a wedding of some of his students.
As a collection of sermons, ACSC is best read slowly and periodically. I found when I read more than one sermon at a sitting, the strength and power of the sermons was blunted. The book is certainly more devotional than it is instructional.
Three particular things jump out about Rev. Hauerwas’s preaching. The first is the connection to communion. Preaching in a liturgical context, he does an incredible job tying each sermon into the meal that follows it. This focus on communion (which had created some fascinating thoughts in me, which I will share some other time) is both beautiful and helpful. While some in liturgical traditions seem to apologize for weekly communion, Hauerwas celebrates it. For anyone who teaches in a church that serves the Lord’s Supper weekly, this book has some excellent teaching on how to make fresh connections between word and sacrament each week.
Second, all of the sermons in ACSC are short and simple. Hauerwas rarely gets involved in complex metaphors. Furthermore, he rarely adds illustrations. His messages are truly spartan. What is most fascinating about this seemingly drab approach to homiletics is that he doesn’t seem boring. He is genuinely engaging. The simplicity of the sermons lends itself to their “punchiness”.
Lastly, Hauerwas is known for his stance on non-violence and pacifism. When I decided to read this book in January, I wondered if it would be too preachy in those areas. (pun unintended) Much to my surprise, these issues take a back seat to the texts that Pastor Hauerwas expounds. He speaks of non-violence when the text indicates it, but he does not wedge it into others.
A Cross-Shattered Church is a good collection of sermons, that would be excellent for men in ministry or seminary to read one a week for spiritual refreshment and encouragement. As far as value in teaching homiletics or showing any sort of method, it’s value is eclipsed by other books.